Tag Archives: surf

Not getting barrelled at Teahupo’o

Teahupo’o. Having shared a big chunk of my life with someone who breathed, dreamed and lived surfing, I was somewhat educated on the waves of the world. And Teahupoo? I could fairly easily recognise the wave in a picture, that crazy, powerful reef break that has surfers around the world dreaming of making a trip to French Polynesia.

I’m a rubbish surfer. It used to wind up my ex. How can you surf for six years and barely progress? He wanted to be able to ride a two foot wave with me; actually, just riding a wave together – any wave – would probably have sufficed.

If I actually made it out the back, I stalled myself out of waves, freaking that they were too big for me. Often I was happiest on the smaller, reformed waves closer to the shore, or riding the white water when I got bored of waiting for a ‘proper’ set to push through (although when I started to finally take the little drops and get on the faces of waves, the white water lost a bit of its appeal).

Realistically, one to two foot on a sunny day in the UK suited me perfectly. I don’t like rips, I’m a bit over mid-winter surfs, and the necessary evils of stiff 5/4mm wetsuits and a full booty-glove-hood get-up makes me tired just thinking about it. I have, I suppose, given in to the fact that I am never going to be one of those girls that rip, and that maybe I am indeed a fair-weather surfer (yet, actually, if the waves are right on a British December day then I’ll definitely get in the water for a splash around, just don’t give me a biting wind and a troubled sky).

Not much happening wavewise back in Devon in the winter of 2007... but its sunny and I'm smiling. Enough.

Not much happening wavewise back in Devon in the winter of 2007… but it’s sunny and I’m smiling.

There was no way, then, that my trip to Tahiti would include me undertaking the giant paddle out to the Teahupo’o showpiece and scuffling for a place in the line-up.

But I wanted to see the magic first hand. I felt that this wave was part of my history, a wave that had been part of conversations and memories and dreams. So I wanted to see the wave and its birthplace, I wanted to experience the magic of bobbing about in a little boat close to the crashing power, and I wanted to watch surfers get barrelled, get air and then bail off the back before the wave closed out and slammed them onto the jagged reef.

Watching the action up close (*not my picture).

From photos and calendars and videos, I knew what it should look like. So why the disenchantment?

Together with my Pacific crossing crew mates, I arrived into the village of Teahupo’o and to a little beach at a river mouth. The only people around were a few kids riding the beach break, twisting and turning on boogie boards, a couple more on stand-ups. The café was closed, the houses empty, the narrow, stony beach deserted.

By the river mouth at Teahupo'o, Tahiti

By the river mouth at Teahupo’o, Tahiti

A couple of boats were moored up by a house but captains were absent and a ride out to the mighty wave began to seem unlikely. I looked out to sea, out past the flatter near-water to a section of crashing waves that occasionally delivered a peel and spit but more typically smashed down on to the reef without any form. Closing out. Surely no one would be out there today trying to surf? I squinted but it was no good. I saw no one.

Shall we just borrow it?

Shall we just borrow it?

Kinda doing... not much

Kinda doing… not much

After a wander through the ghost village and along a rocky, coral beach, we weren’t any closer to the wave or to scoring a boat ride. I wondered if some of these houses were even occupied by locals and just how different this sleepy place was when the annual Billabong Pro surf comp came to town.

A hint of what Teahupo'o has become?

A hint of what Teahupo’o has become?

I gave up on getting out there to see it up close, and retreated back to the hire car. The only friends we made were some stray dogs. Oh, and one of the teens who gave us a wave as we left.

No barrels for me, or anyone else it would seem. Maybe I should have done some research before I left? Sometimes things just work out. This time it didn’t. Back to the perfect waves of picture books, then.


Filed under activity & sport, beaches, nature, pacific, sea, surf, tahiti

Why you could fall in love with the Byron Bay bubble


Stretch and surf: that which epitomises Byron Bay

Although I arrived into Ballina-Byron airport to late January sunshine, I spent the next three days a prisoner indoors, rain refusing to run out. My early impressions of Byron were therefore not great.

We live in a rainforest area’, said my good friend Sariya, ‘it rains a lot here’. And over the next weeks, her words rang true. Hot, humid days with a piercing sun and big, blue skies were interspersed with grey days of torrential downpour. It took a while to acclimatise to the heat, the spores or whatever in the air made me feel congested much of the time and I found sleeping difficult, tossing and turning, uncomfortable.

So when was I going to fall for this place? It wasn’t love at first sight (mostly because I couldn’t see a damn thing through the heavy blanket of rain). But things got better. I discovered many of the things that draw in the crowds to this small surf town.

Among other things, Byron Bay in New South Wales, Australia is:

Beachy. Byron life revolves around the beaches and the surf, although surprisingly, a lot of locals don’t actually surf. There are some strong rips and some seriously dangerous areas along this stretch of coastline where swimming is not recommended, but places like The Pass are ever popular spots for people learning to surf (the first day that I went out it wasn’t so great and I smashed up my friend’s board. Not a good moment). Groups gather on the beach in matching tops, practise their pop-ups on the sand before taking to the water. Families hang out in the shade of the trees that fringe the beach and hot, young things wander by giving each other the eye. Out by Main Beach, evenings offer up regular dusk drumming sessions and the opportunity to mix, mingle and party as the hillside fills with small groups of travellers, language students, locals and musicians in the making.

Randomly eventful. Whilst I was in Byron, the place was winding down from the busy summer holiday season but there was still plenty going on including Buddhist teaching workshops, the Sex & Consciousness Conference with its Masked Lovers Ball, Tribal Fusion Belly Dancing performances, and the yoga-focused Spirit Festival. March and April promised even more with popular events such as Bluesfest and Byron Bay International Film Festival.

Aesthetic and beautiful. I sat down for a few minutes at the Sunday Byron Market with a friend whilst her kids played on a bouncy castle slide, and I did some serious people watching. I was a bit intimidated. ‘Those people’, said a local guy when I aired my insecurities, ‘are probably holiday makers and they’re in happy, confident holiday mode, far away from their usual worries’. People were slender, toned, and beautifully and stylishly clothed. They walked tall, perfect posture. Market asides, there just seemed to be so much cool and confidence in Byron, and in my experience that’s the locals and tourists alike. Maybe more so the locals, actually.

Postive-energied. I couldn’t help but feel some of that magical energy that is regularly commented on. Warm people, some pretty out-there experiences, lots of stuff about intuition and energy and vibes. And lots of genuine smiles and hellos from strangers (or friends you have yet to meet, if you subscribe to that philosophy!). People come here for all that, for the way-out opportunities, for the laid-back lifestyle and of course, for the surf (just don’t come thinking you’ll easily score a job). And some people come to find themselves and their Zen and to feed off the energy of this place.

Independently minded. This is evident by the many individual clothing, gift, craft and jewellery shops that line the main streets, the quirky coffee bars and book shops and restaurants. Whilst a few big brands have tried to muscle in, Byron has managed to maintain a feeling of individuality.

Healing and spiritual. In Byron, there are many ways to retune one’s mind, body and soul, from the expected hypnotherapy, massage, tarot, zumba, and of course every type of yoga imaginable (Byron is yoga central) right through to the more curious soul wound healing, kinesiology, iridology, happiness coaching and kahuna bodywork. There is even support for men who want ‘Wild Man’ to help guide them to live ‘a masculine life of integrity, authenticity and freedom’. I almost wish that I was a guy, just so I could try it out.

Healthy and active. The climate and the setting make for some great time spent outdoors doing active stuff. I swam and surfed in a warm sea and shared smiles with other joggers out on dusk runs. I often cycled into town from where I was staying in Suffolk Park along sun speckled bike tracks and through the Arakwal National Park. On my way I would pass by hoards of kids skateboarding to school and join a stream of cycling commuters as I got closer to Byron itself. There does seem to be a complete contrast between the full on healthy, non-drinking, non-smoking puritans and the party pleasure-seekers with their alcohol, drug fuelled fun. Because I don’t totally subscribe to either scene, I did at times feel a bit a bit out of the loop and looked down on. Don’t give me a label. I’ll have a bit of it all, thank you. Let me and others enjoy the healthy lifestyle options available in Byron without being judged on the odd indulgence.

Hedonistic. Alongside the healthy are the hedonists: predominantly the backpacker scene of party people. Byron may be a place of clear complexions and body awareness but it is also the place for some messy, messy nights. Whilst there are places in town to cater for all sorts of tastes, ages and people, the party crowd in the main spots is on the whole pretty young, think late teens early twenties. And they want to indulge: in alcohol, in each other, in the heady atmosphere. But there is more to Byron nightlife too, including a whole range of musicians who busk their hearts out and street performers who keep the post-pub crowds entertained (although you won’t see fire poi or juggling as flames were supposedly banned from Byron’s streets a good few years back).

Coffee loving. I hung out in comfy, cosy coffee shops making use of free WiFi. When I was looking for work, one of the main questions was ‘Can you make coffee?’ Of course I can make coffee, I thought, but until I said it with some conviction, I didn’t even get a look-in. As it turns out,  Byronians love their coffee (well, Australians in general love their coffee, I think it’s fair to say) . I met a good few self-proclaimed coffee connoisseurs. Bad coffee could ruin a business. I got it. And I did have some great coffees in friendly, smiley places such as Why Not?, one of many coffee bars scattered around the town. 

Social and familiar. Compared to other places that I’ve been based, making friends in Byron was a fairly easy process, providing you made some effort. And I met people who were keen to get out and do stuff, and up for chats and beers and music and dancing. Nearly everyone that I met, local or otherwise, were welcoming, happy to share their space. And with Byron being quite small, it wasn’t long before I was bumping into people I knew, hellos on the street, that sort of thing. Felt good.  Note: Don’t park your van outside someone’s house and leave rubbish and beer bottles kicking around. You’ll make friends with no-one but the police who are doing a clampdown on ‘vanpackers’.

In short, Byron has a lot going on. ‘It’s its own little bubble’, said a local, ‘It’s not really representative of the rest of Australia’. Some things are truly bizarre, other stuff more conventional. The beauty is that there is something for every taste. And more than enough energy kicking around to soothe any lost souls.

Residents may bemoan the changes and increasing commercialisation that has taken place in the past ten years, but Byron Bay does still hold considerable charm. It’s still a bit of a hippy town, even if Subway and Sportsgirl have made an appearance. It’s small enough to be cosy, but there’s enough going on to keep it vibrant. I’ll be back before too long.


Filed under activity & sport, australia, beaches, culture, festivals, food & drink, surf

My, oh my, Manly!


Manly Beach, Manly, Sydney

I am sitting on the steps overlooking Manly Beach eating a picnic of juicy berries and watching beautiful people soak up the sunshine. Surfers and wannabe surfers take to the water riding small, consistent waves on a sparkling, turquoise ocean whist scavenging seagulls with shrill calls and narrowed eyes swoop whenever an opportunity presents itself, attacking tourists eating $12 fish and chips.


Views from down the promonade back towards Manly, Sydney

A long strip of golden sand at the top of Steyne Street, Manly Beach is lined by trees and a paved promenade along which families stroll with pushchairs, people lazily peddle along on push bikes and sun kissed kids skateboard, weaving in and out of a steady trickle of visitors.

The main street of Manly is wide, pedestrianised and full of brands from Oakley to Hurley, in amidst delis and ice-cream parlours galore. On the beach and in the town itself, young gym-toned, smooth chested men strut topless whilst slender, tanned girls wander around in bikini tops and summer dresses. The air smells of money with that Laguna Beach look, the one that says: I’ve just thrown this together but it took time and cost a small fortune to look so casual. But they did look pretty and cool, albeit a very constructed cool.


Beach volleyball on Manly Beach, Sydney

Although plenty of families make use of the beach, Manly feels like a place for young singles: groups of guys and girls eyeing each other up with a quick, superficial scan of the ample flesh on display before making a move or moving on.

One trio of guys kick a ball about by the water’s edge. Just as two girls come out of the sea the ball lands by them, and one of the girls skilfully belts it back to the boys. The dating dance has begun. The girls giggle and walk on, whilst the boys snatch regular glances and eventually make an approach. The groups merge and maybe, who knows, a lovely summer romance begins.

So after spending some time in the town and walking the full stretch of the beach, I’m sitting here, eating my fruit picnic. A man and woman close to me start to argue and I quickly realise that I am witnessing a break-up. Come on guys, kiss and make up. It all sounds like a load of miscommunication and misunderstanding. Once the tears start, I make my exit.

And then just as I am about to leave the beach, I see him: a bit of a belly and hairy from top to toe. Finally, a man to put the man into Manly.

Ferries for Manly leave every half an hour from Wharf 3 Circular Quay in Sydney city centre and the journey takes 30minutes. A return costs $14, but a day ticket for trains and ferries within central Sydney costs $22, so work out what makes sense.

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Filed under activity & sport, australia, beaches, surf

Me, you and the Paritutu


Views of Paritutu from Back Beach

The Paritutu is a mini mountain, well hill really, overlooking New Plymouth and some of the Taranaki region of New Zealand. My plan had been to climb Mount Taranaki itself but other than a peek of the peak on my arrival into the city, she had kept herself well hidden under a swath of heavy cloud. The weather had also been particularly bad for New Zealand summertime: torrential downpours and forceful winds that snapped trees in two and forced us humans to retreat indoors.

But then one morning a little sliver of sunshine promised a better day and my friends suggested a practise walk to and up the Paritutu. We dropped Rob and his surfboard off at Back Beach, and Dund and I set off along the cliff top walk through passageways of plants and grasses. The views opened up to show the surf below; nice lines and peeling two foot waves on a bright blue ocean under a Simpsons sky.


Back Beach


The walk from Back Beach to Paritutu


Approaching the Paritutu rock

After less than half an hour we were at the start of the Paritutu climb where the first part was an easy ascent up solid, supported steps. The next section was more fun: a return to the ropes and cables of some of the climbs I had experienced in Peru, although here the chain was really necessary to help launch you up to the next level. Not really a path, it was a steep scramble with rocks jutting out all over the place that put vertigo and basic climbing skills to the test. I loved it. (Coming down was a bit of a different matter, the incline and height accentuated by the views down to the bottom, and Dund’s legs were shaking when we arrived back at the start, an adrenaline-achievement mix).


Dund starting the climb up Paritutu


Steep climb further up the Paritutu

At the top of Paritutu there was a little platform to catch one’s breath, take in the views and reapply some sun cream. No shade though, and the strong midday sun was a bit vicious. The height of the Paritutu, although only 156m, allows you to take in the views of the city, seascape and the mass of fields stretching out into the distance. And if you’re lucky, Mount Taranaki, but on this particular day she was still feeling a bit shy. Not uncommon, apparently.


Me and Dund at the top of the Paritutu

When I was in Rotorua, I listened to a radio interview with the  British adventurer Alastair Humphries who talked about doing mini adventures that were doable in a day. This Paritutu experience was essentially a micro adventure, and although fairly structured and safe, it still had the undertaking of the clamber up steep crags which gave it an element of risk. It wasn’t for the unfit or the frightened (though the girl who point blank refused to go up when her parents were up for it was probably being a bit pathetic), but it is a short and sweet morning activity.

If the rain holds off, give it a go.


Filed under activity & sport, hikes, new zealand, surf

Back in for a surf: Raglan time

Sun is shining, and as Bob would say, the weather is sweet. I’m sitting in the car park of Ngarunui Beach a few miles down the road from Raglan town centre having hitched a ride with a German guy. A van full of beautiful French people pulls up, two laughing couples playfully arguing as they unload their boards and step into wetsuits, tops pulled down to show off taut stomachs and perfect skin.


The pathway down to the beach

I’ve just got out of a surf, my first surf wearing only a bikini. England right now would need the full get-up: 5/4mm wetsuit, booties, gloves and hood (that’s if you’re committed enough or silly enough to go into the water when the beach waterfalls have frozen solid).


There are a couple of surf hire places, a new(ish) lifeguard hut and not much else

Waves are going to be small all week,’ Mickey, a Swiss-cum-Raglan resident had said before I headed out. He was clearly disappointed but it sounded great to me. A little one foot wave, two in luckier moments, was a good reintroduction to the sea, and the eight foot hunk of a board that I’d managed to blag made catching a ride a bit of a given.


Heading in for a surf

Most people were packing up for the day so the beach wasn’t too crowded. As I bobbed about waiting for a set to push through, I couldn’t help but draw comparisons with back home in Devon: green rolling hillsides, wide sandy beaches stretching into the distance, houses to die for dotted on the hillside.

So many of us search for something different, something beautiful, something more, and here I was, over 11,0000 miles from Woolacombe and Putsborough, and this place was undoubtedly beautiful but it was also strangely familiar. I guess that if you don’t explore, you’ll never know, but clearly the grass isn’t always greener. It’s just a slightly different shade. And maybe the sea was a little warmer and there was a touch more summer sunshine. I loved it. But I also love Devon in the summertime.

And so I splashed around and paddled my board and barely got my hair wet. I loved being the farthest out back (okay, it was small and no serious surfers would bother to grace these parts on such a petite day), sitting on my board facing out to the sea trying to spot a slight swell in the ocean. Miles and miles of sun-speckled water stretched out to a drop-off horizon, a vast mass of magnificent nature.

Later, sitting on the veranda of my house crash watching a beautiful haloed sun make way for the night whilst munching on a chunky bar of Whittaker’s chocolate and sipping a glass of red, I thought, yeah, this is my sort of afternoon. Pity it doesn’t pay the bills.

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Filed under activity & sport, new zealand, surf